Nevada County: Bar association backs judges’ fight to keep courts open |

Nevada County: Bar association backs judges’ fight to keep courts open

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; The Nevada County Bar Association voted this week to support local judges in their battle to keep the courthouse doors open.

It’s the latest move in a growing statewide protest over budget cuts at the local level in the face of continued spending by the bureaucracy that oversees California’s Superior Court system.

Faced with the statewide budget deficit, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is considering an order that all county courthouses close one Wednesday per month.

California’s 58 county court systems were moved from county to state control under the AOC in the mid-1990s in an effort to standardize and centralize many court functions. Since then, the AOC has ballooned from 100 employees to nearly 900, with an estimated $177 million budget.

Many county judges question its purpose and across-the-board policies.

Judges also are concerned about reducing staff and cutting costs at the local level, while the AOC continues to grow and spend millions on training, seminars and a statewide computer system that will cost an estimated $1.1 billion before it is rolled out.

and#8220;The work that the AOC performs is important. But it is no more important than the core functions of trial courts and the safety of those who work in and visit our courthouses,and#8221; Nevada County Presiding Judge Sean Dowling wrote in a letter to AOC Director William Vickery earlier this year.

In that letter, Dowling said the recent cuts have jeopardized courthouse security. He wondered how trials and#8212; which typically are scheduled Tuesday through Thursday and#8212; would be impacted if the courthouse closed one Wednesday per month.

Dowling’s frustrations are shared by other county judges.

and#8220;As judges of the San Mateo County Superior Court, we recognize that the state faces significant budgetary challenges,and#8221; read a letter sent to the AOC last month. and#8220;However, we believe that closing courthouses will seriously impact the public’s constitutional right to access their courts.and#8221;

On Thursday, the Nevada County Bar Association board voted to support the judges’ efforts, President Dave Finch told The Union.

and#8220;We’ve voted at our noon meeting yesterday to support our local judges and those of the Sacramento Superior Court in their efforts to get the Administrative Office of the Courts to take another look at their mandate for court closure one day a month,and#8221; Finch said Friday.

The local bar association also is asking the AOC to take a fresh look at and#8220;other budget constraints that are causing local court employees to be laid off or reduced in their hours, even though the huge bureaucracy known as the Administrative Office of the Court is not making any budget cuts, and is going forward with a $1.1 billion computer program which the judges feel is of questionable priority.and#8221;

Five court employees already have been laid off, and more cuts are possible, Nevada County courthouse Executive Officer Sean Metroka said last week.

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